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A.A. Myths: The Myth of Going to Meetings: Why ‘Meeting Makers Don’t Always Make It’

The October 2013 Cover issue of the AA Grapevine prominently proclaims it's "Don't Drink and Go to Meetings" Message of Recovery. Variations of this theme include, "90 meetings in 90 days" and Meeting Makers Make It!".

Meetings, meetings, meetings! Are you going to a meeting? Feel like drinking....get your ass to a meeting. I hear at all the time. Our "Into Action" 12 Step Program of Recovery has been replaced by a program of "attending as many meetings as possible". I personally attend on average two meetings per week. I go to meetings for two reasons, 1) Camaraderie with fellow Big Book sponsors, and 2) to look for newcomers who want a Big Book solution to their dilemma.

Do "Meeting Makers" really make it?

In a study about treatment for cocaine addiction, it was found that addicts desiring recovery, who regularly got involved in 12 Step service activities ,but attended meetings inconsistently, were more likely to stay clean and sober than those addicts who attended meetings regularly but did not engage in 12 Step service activities (Moos 2008:396).

Clarence H. Snyder, founder of AA in Cleveland, Ohio (1939), remembered Dr. Bob once saying: "There is an easy way and a hard way to recovery from alcoholism. The hard way is by just going to meetings."

What does the Big Book of AA, our basic recovery text have to say on the subject of meetings?

"Seeing much of each other, scarce an evening passed that someone's home did not shelter a little gathering of men and women, happy in their release, and constantly thinking how they might present their discovery to some newcomer. In addition to these casual get-togethers, it became customary to set apart one night a week for a meeting to be attended by anyone or everyone interested in a spiritual way of life. Aside from fellowship and sociability, the prime object was to provide a time and place where new people might bring their problems." (A.A. p. 159-160)

The problem with many meetings today is that they have become a site for psychological casualties.

Where is the experience, strength and hope  of recovered members that was once the benchmark of a healthy group?

Newcomers go to meetings in hope of finding a way out of their predicament, a way out with experience strength and hope and instead are inundated with war stories, drunk-a-logs, and the minutiae of they day. By the end of the meeting, the newcomer feels worse than ever and is more likely to use after attending one of these meetings than if he had never attend at all!

On page 86 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it says, But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.

Why is it that we have so many "open discussion meetings" (OD) that permit "free-for-alls" where anyone can talk about any subject they wish to "spout-off" about. Subject matter can range from "pissing and moaning" about their day, to sharing feelings about unhappy relationships or complaining about a lousy job, telling tedious war-stories, making jokes, to sharing just plain nonsense.

"Inheritors of the Big Book sponsorship tradition find themselves a minority perspective within the rapidly growing recovery culture. Generally, Big Book sponsors are unhappy with the prevailing presentation of the Twelve Steps. Some see the recovery culture as: proliferating victim groups, a sort of endless Oprah Winfrey show that claims the A.A. Twelve Step method as its inspiration, but in which the real meaning of the Twelfth Step is lost amid an incessant whine about the injured self."Quoted in "A.A. at the Crossroads," by Andrew Delbanco and Thomas Delbanco. The New Yorker, March 20, 1995, p. 51

What does work? What is a high predictor of long-term sobriety?

A Baltimore, Maryland study of 500 former and current heroin and cocaine injection drug users over the course of one year indicated having an AA/NA sponsor was not correlated with any improvement in sustained abstinence rates than a non-sponsored group (Crape 2001:291). However, being a sponsor was found to be highly correlated with sustained abstinence. In fact, 75% of the sponsors group maintained abstinence over the one year period and showed the the most improved lifestyle changes (Crape 2001:298).

But if you are shaky you had better work with another alcoholic (addict) instead. (AA p. 102)

This seemed to prove that one alcoholic (addict) could affect another as no nonalcoholic (non- addict) could. It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic (addict) with another, was vital to permanent recovery. (p. xvi - xvii, 4th ed.)

Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking (using, acting out) as intensive work with other alcoholics (addicts). It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics (addicts)! (Are you willing to do this - yes-no?) You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail. Remember they are very ill. (AA p. 89)

References:

Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001.

Crape, Byron L, Carl A Latkin, Alexandra S Laris, and Amy R Knowlton. "The Effects of Sponsorship in 12-step Treatment of Injection Drug Users." Drug and Alcohol Dependence 65, no. 3 (February 2002): 291–301. doi:10.1016/S0376-8716(01)00175-2.

Moos, Rudolf H. 2008. "How and Why Twelve Self-Help Groups are Effective." Research on Alcoholics Anonymous and Spirituality in Addiction Recovery: Series: Recent Developments in Alcoholism. Vol. 18. American Society of Addiction Medicine and Research Society on Alcoholism. Edited by Marc Galanter and Lee Kaskutas. 450 p. 22 illus.

 

9 Responses

  1. tim r says:

    “don’t drink”, in any of its permutations is a silly thing to say to anybody. Real alcoholics are unable to follow the advice, and moderate drinkers don’t need to.

    Amazing how enough repetition can eventually instill credibility.

    I don’t like to alienate anyone by being a “Big Book Thumper”, but the truth is we’re croaking people with this perverse contradiction of the program.

    I always call people on it when its said, as gently and diplomatically as I can. But now that its part of the Official AA Literature it will be even more difficult to dislodge from our dialog.

  2. The Divo says:

    It’s part of official AA literature to attend meetings over working the Steps? Have I missed a reference? I’m a new student of the Big Book and since my life is at stake and I follow the principles, which include addressing Wino Joe’s prediction from the 40s that “two things kill alcoholics in AA: liquor and bad information” can you point me to what literature espouses this concept please so I can be armed with the facts for diplomatic discourse?
    In fellowship
    Divo

  3. Larry says:

    “I have a choice today whether to drink or not” rhetoric (aka ‘the ain’t it wonderfuls’)…My experience of 30 years continuos sobriety and spiritual growth has shown me that “…if we cut ourselves off from the Sunlight of the Spirit, the insanity [not the choice] of alcohol returns, we drink, and we die. AA is not some 12 step program, it is a program given to us by God. using Bill Wilson, Dr Bob Smith and those first ~100 men and women. We are Spirit based. Wrecked in the same vessel, restored and United under One God. — Larry L.

  4. bill wilson says:

    There is absolutely nothing spiritual about just don drink go to meetings if i just dont drink than why do i need the meeting how bout i just dont drink n go to the movies. Im powerless over alcohol i cant just not drink. Or how bout this one day at a time. I cant even get ten minutes sober now your telling me one day at a time what is all this frothy emotional apeal 90 meetings in 90 days keep coming back. How bout i stay if i keep coming back than im starting my day count over. It works if you work it oh really how do you work than. No where in our literature does it say as a result of attendance at AA we tried to carry *this* message. No its as a result of the 12 steps which are laid out for us a subtle command for a prgram of recovery which is outlined for us its already been done just follow the rules yes there are rules. No rules to join the fellowship i need spiritual growth n recovery. How bout the ppl tha have been around for 30 years n just let the new guy or girl just leave when the meetings over n they raise there hand n say im a gratefull recovering alcohol. No your a selfish prick n you just watched 2 new guys leave to go drink. Time doesnt equal distance away from booze. God bless chop wood carry water literally try it sometime i love to.hmm

  5. Rich N says:

    My experience is, if I carry the message, which of course I have to as it’s my job having had a spiritual awakening, that you put a Target on your back for a lot of people who don’t want to be budged from their complacency. The don’t drink and go to meetings message indeed contradicts the very ABCs of the program by pretending that the amateur therapists in the meetings can make me feel better and somehow recover me from alcoholism with their words of wisdom. No mention of a higher power really since we want you to become addicted to the meetings!

  6. Billy says:

    My experience has been that alcoholics and have to DO different things to get the very new result of experiencing a peaceful sobriety. I needed to change my behavior and the way I related to other people and I needed a road map for which actions to take. I learned right action by being shown how to take the steps. This “don’t” bullsh*t means nothing to me. How does one not drink or not do anything? Rather: take the steps and discover authenticity, love and kindness.

  7. Andrew L says:

    The Foreward to the First Edition of The Big Book says “To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.” AA meetings are supposed to be a place where we can find newcomers to work with and to carry the MESSAGE of the instructions in the Big Book. We are to find a relationship with God of our understanding who we are to form a relationship with and to rely upon. During the late 30s and early 40s, the recovery rate was between 75 and 93 percent. The recovery rate is now not even 10 percent because the Fellowship has drifted so drastically away from the precise instructions in the Big Book.

  8. Steve says:

    An open meeting is “open” to anyone, an open to concepts unrelated to alcoholism.

    I got sober on a steady diet of closed discussion meetings and they were my favorite. I have moved from the East Coast to the Midwest were we have individual table meetings usually on one of the steps and everyone is expected to share leading to hearing the same things from the same people over and over.

    Getting to the point, meeting makers make it is a misconception, a mere observation that the last thing one does is discontinuing meetings, not the cause.

    The AA “program” is working the steps as enumerated in the 1st 164 pages of the Big Book, making meetings is unfortunately only vaguely implied, but a necessary part of the program. It also takes learning and using the tools of sobriety which are generally not found in the Big Book which were surely discarded before meetings are discontinued. Does it make sense that if you stop working the program and using the tools of sobriety that meetings make no sense because you are seeing no success in getting and/or remaining sober?

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